The Film (5/5)
I actually watched the Vanished Empire about 2 weeks ago. It was not a release I was anticipating, in fact, I had never even heard of the film or it's director Karen Shakhnazarov before this disc arrived. The only information I had about the film was from the cover. I went into this film with no expectations, other than “it looks interesting.” This film was beyond simply an interesting flick that arrived in my mail, this is one of the Top 5 best films I have seen in 2009.
The Vanished Empire tells the story of Sergei, an on again/off again student in the 70's Soviet Union as he tries to establish his direction in life, and in love. Sergei is an extremely intelligent, and well read (thanks to his Grandfather's massive collection of books) young man. He loves Western rock and roll, vodka, pot, and having a good time. This all changes when he meets Lyuda his first love, and has to learn to deal with these new emotions, and the responsibilities they bring.
I will say that my little synopsis there does not even begin to do this film justice. What I wrote sounds like a typical coming-of-age love story, and in ways it definitely is. However, this film also feels like a nostalgic time capsule of an era that few of us in the Western hemisphere got to experience, and only knew about through the little tidbits offered to us on the evening news. It is a film that feels more like a Russian version of The Graduate filtered through the lens that was Communist Russia.
Kino has presented The Vanished Empire in a 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The transfer is soft in some places, with slight grain through, but nothing to overly affect the viewing experience. The audio is in Russian with English subtitles, and similarly does the trick. The audio from the dialogue to the rock and roll music is clear, but will not push the limits of your home theater. There is no noticeable popping, hissing, or other background noise on the track.
Sadly, the DVD of this amazing film is completely devoid of extras. I know this is probably a minor release from Kino, but a director's commentary, Hell, even an interview with the director or a cast member would be nice to put this film into further perspective.
The Vanished Empire is simply an amazing piece of Russian cinema. It depicts an era that few of us truly got to experience outside of the newspaper, and the evening news. It's characters are alive with the conflicting emotions of youth, and create a compelling story brought to life by an excellent filmmaker. The transfer is good, but not outstanding, and sadly, the DVD is without an extras. Still this is one of the top 5 films I have seen in 2009, and comes EXTREMELY highly recommended.